Interview with Luzell Johnson

Dublin Core


Interview with Luzell Johnson


Hanford Site (Wash.)
Pasco (Wash.)


Luzell Johnson moved to Pasco, Washington in 1944 to work on the Hanford Site.

An interview conducted by the African American Community Cultural and Educational Society (AACCES) as part of an oral history project documenting the lives of African Americans in the Tri-Cities during the Manhattan Project and Cold War.


African American Community Cultural and Educational Society


Hanford Oral History Project at Washington State University Tri-Cities




Those interested in reproducing part or all of this oral history should contact the Hanford History Project at, who can provide specific rights information for this item.



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Luzell Johnson


[woman off-camera]: Can you see? Do I need to move that stuff out the way?

Vanis Daniels: Yeah, we’ll move.

[man off-camera]: I need to move up closer, too.

Daniels: We’ll move all this stuff out of the way.

[man off-camera]: And I need to move up closer. It’d be nice if we had him sitting back, away from the table.

Daniels: Sitting back a little bit?

[man off-camera]: Can you move back away from the table so we can—

Daniels: Okay.

[man]: So we get the—

Daniels: I can—now, you want me to just pull him back?

[man]: Well, he can stay right up to the table there where he is. I can just get on the end here. What I wanted to do was get it so we don’t have to pick up a whole bunch of stuff before we get to him. Because when we get ready to edit it, we’ll need to zoom it. We’ll need to do some zooming and stuff, too.

Daniels: Now, we also can move the table back, too.

[woman off-camera]: That’s right. That might be easier.

[man off-camera]: Let’s just move the tables back. Slide it. Because I really don’t need nothing in front of us.

Daniels: All right. We should have enough room now.

[man off-camera]: That’s real good right there, I think.

Daniels: Okay. All right. You need this? You don’t? All right.

[man off-camera] These can come down a little more. That’s good. That should be good. That’s good right there. Now, we’re going to need a microphone on him.

Daniels: I don’t need a microphone. Ah, damn.

[Interviewer 1]: Mr. Johnson, we’re doing some work on the Manhattan Project here. You came to work on this area during this time, during the Manhattan Project in the 1943-1944 timeframe. Could you tell us or describe how you got here, how you heard about Hanford and a little bit about how you ended up here?

Luzell Johnson: My sister and her husband, Joe Williams, they was in California working on a plant. And they left there and come to Hanford. And when they got there, they started working on the Hanford Project. They come home in February, I think, and they were telling me about—they told me about the job. They asked me if I wanted to come move out there—

[Interviewer 1]: When you said they came home, where was home?

Johnson: Alabama. Finchburg, Alabama.

[Interviewer 1]: What was that in Alabama again?

Johnson: Finchburg, Alabama.

[Interviewer 1]: Frenchburg, Alabama. Can you tell us a little bit about what you were doing in Frenchburg before they came home and talked you into coming here?

Johnson: I was working in a creosote plant.

[Interviewer 1]: And at that creosote plant, what did you do there? What kind of—what were you doing, doing the work there?

Johnson: Toiling, working on crane.

[Interviewer 1]: And then could you describe, what, when you got ready to come out here, or getting ready to come out here in the transportation in getting out here, could you tell us a little bit about that? And then what you did when you got out here.

Johnson: My brother had bought an old ’41 Plymouth, and he and Joe was working around places. He gave me the Plymouth. I drove the ’41 Plymouth out here. You want to know who come with me?

[Interviewer 1]: Yes, I’d sure like to know who—

Johnson: Emmett Brown and Charlie Dart and—I can’t think of the other—

[Interviewer 1]: And those were all relatives of yours or were they just friends and relatives?

Johnson: They was Joe’s sister’s kids.

[Interviewer 1]: When you arrived in the Tri-Cities or Pasco, could you tell us a little bit about what it was like, what you found when you got here?

Johnson: Well, I found the job was available when I got here. I went to a job when I was hired in, I was hired in as a cement finisher. And they didn’t have no spot to put a cement finisher. They put me as a laborer, sweeping floors. And I got a card to go to the army. I went to the superintendent and showed him the card, and he told me, why you didn’t come out as a finisher? I said, foreman told me they didn’t have no spots for a finisher. He told me, yes, we do have plenty of room for a finisher. Where’s your tools? I said, they back at the camp. He said, bring your tools out here in the morning, and I’ll put you in as a finisher. He put me on finishing. I got the card to go to the army. To go to the army, a 3-A, I think it was.

[Interviewer 1]: On your living conditions when you got here, did you live in Pasco or did you come into Pasco and then go from Pasco out to Hanford, which is about another 40 miles?

Johnson: Mm-hm.

[Interviewer 1]: You lived in Pasco and then before you went off to the barracks, or did you come in and just go on out to Hanford in the next few days?

Johnson: I went on out to Hanford. My sister was running the eating place.

[Interviewer 1]: That’s the mess hall out there?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 1]: Yes, and I believe that we interviewed her and she told us a little bit about learning to do the juggling act on how she could handle all the food on her arm, how they taught her how to do all of that. Towards the end of the Manhattan Project, when that was winding down in late 1944 and early 1945, could you tell me a little bit about, you know, did you just stay here in Pasco, or did you go to Tacoma or go back to Alabama and come back, or--?

Johnson: I went to Alabama, and I went down to the creosote plant. And the man offered my job back. I told him—he asked me what was I getting? And I told him I was getting a dollar an hour. And he said, would you come back? I told him, no, I wouldn’t come back for $0.35. I was getting $0.35 where I lived, an hour. So I come back there to Pasco. I come back to Pasco. I bought a little place in Pasco and that’s where I lived at 321 South Front Street in Pasco. I lived there for a good while and I decided to buy me a place, a bigger place of my own. I lived there on the place—George had a place out there, I lived on George place. And I bought some land and I built a house.

[Interviewer 1]: During the time you came, during the Manhattan Project out there, I noticed there were some other people out there, African Americans, like my uncle Daniels, Willy Daniels and Vanis Daniels, and my father-in-law, David Casterburg also worked out there. Is that when you met those people for the first time, primarily Mr. Daniels, because I know you guys was great friends. Is that where you first met him?

Johnson: That’s right.

[Interviewer 1]: Tell us a little bit about what you guys did in the social life part of it. Would you go to church, play ball, or what did you do?

Johnson: Play ball. I would go and look at them playing ball. I couldn’t play ball. I wasn’t good enough to play on the league. But Vanis and Daniel and the tall black man, I can’t call his name—

[Interviewer 1]: Noble Johnson?

Johnson: No.

[Interviewer 1]: Was it Noble Johnson?

Johnson: Mm-mm. Marion Zack.

Daniels: Talking about Zack.

[Interviewer 1]: Marion Zack? Zack Johnson? I’d forgotten about them, man. Well, and then you went back to Alabama. So kind of like what my relatives did. They worked and then they went back home, found out that, like you said, the pay was about what you said, from what I remember, and then when I came in ’47 it was kind of that way. So knowing what was out there, you came back out here and this is where you’ve lived since then.

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 1]: Thank you, Mr. Johnson.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay. Mr. Luzell, we’re going to back up, I need just a little bit of background information, okay? Now, what is your full name?

Johnson: Luzell Johnson.

[Interviewer 2]: No middle name. Okay, what year were you born?

Johnson: 1912.

[Interviewer 2]: 1912?

Johnson: May 11th.

[Interviewer 2]: May the 11th, 1912?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay. Do you remember how to spell the name of the town where you say you were born in—

Johnson: Remember what?

[Interviewer 2]: The name of the town you were born in?

Johnson: Finchburg, Alabama.

[Interviewer 2]: Is that F-L-I-N-C-H?

Johnson: F-I-N-C-H.

[Interviewer 2]: F-I-N-C-H. Finchville, Alabama?

Johnson: Burg.

[Interviewer 2]: Finchburg, B-U-R-G?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay. What’s your parents’ name?

Johnson: Byas Johnson and Frances.

[Interviewer 2]: Miles and Frances Johnson?

Johnson: Byas Johnson was Pa’s name.

[Interviewer 2]: Miles Johnson, okay.

Johnson: Byas, B-Y-A-S.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay, I’m sorry. And your mother’s name?

Johnson: Frances.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay. Were they born in Finchburg, too?

Johnson: I don’t know, I think.

[Interviewer 2]: You don’t remember. How many brothers and sisters did you have?

Johnson: Three sisters and five brother.

[Interviewer 2]: Are any of them alive now?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: How many?

Johnson: Two.

[Interviewer 2]: Two brothers. Any sisters?

Johnson: Yeah.

[Interviewer 2]: How many?

Johnson: Two—three.

[Interviewer 2]: Two brothers and three sisters?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay. What kind of work do you remember your parents doing?

Johnson: Farming.

[Interviewer 2]: Farming. Did they own their own land? They were sharecroppers? Sharecroppers?

Johnson: Yes.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay, so you came out here with your brother named Joe? Okay, and he had been out here already previously?

Johnson: Yes.

[Interviewer 2]: He had come out here before and worked for a while?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: And then he wrote and told you about it and that’s when you knew you wanted to come out here?

Johnson: He came home.

[Interviewer 2]: Oh, he came home. Okay. And do you remember exactly what year that was, Mr. Johnson, that you came out here?

Johnson: ’33.

[Interviewer 2]: ’33? Okay. Okay, and then he came home, what did he tell you exactly about this area when he came home? What did he tell you?

Johnson: That I could go to work and get more money.

[Interviewer 2]: He told you—did he tell you what kind of work you’d be doing?

Johnson: Mm-mm.

[Interviewer 2]: He just told you you could come out here and get a job. And then as I understood, you guys came by car. Did he come with you, or did you come by yourself?

Johnson: He came with me.

[Interviewer 2]: He came with you. Y’all drove the ’41?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay. And then, after you got here, tell me exactly, Mr. Johnson, when you got here, how many other blacks do you think were here at that time?

Johnson: Oh, quite a few working on the job.

[Interviewer 2]: Already?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: In ’43. Mm-hmm. Now tell me, when you got to Pasco, did black people have houses? We’ve been told—I’ve been told that black people didn’t have houses in ’43. Did they have houses?

Johnson: Yeah.

[Interviewer 2]: They did? Can you remember any of the blacks that were when you got here already?

Johnson: Mr. and Mrs. Coleman.

[Interviewer 2]: Mr. and Mrs. Coleman.

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: Anybody else?

Johnson: I can’t think of his name—

[Interviewer 2]: Was Katie Mooney here when you got here?

Johnson: Mm-mm.

[Interviewer 2]: She was not? Was Miss Arlene Johnson here?

Johnson: Mm-mm.

[Interviewer 2]: She was not?

Johnson: I didn’t know them.

[Interviewer 2]: You didn’t know them, but they could have been here? I see. Now, where did you live when you got here?

Johnson: Oh.

[Interviewer 2]: The time you got here, where did you live?

Johnson: I lived in the barracks.

[Interviewer 2]: In the barracks at Hanford? They was segregated?

Johnson: I guess they was.

[Interviewer 2]: Blacks were in one area and whites were in another?

Johnson: I don’t remember.

[Interviewer 2]: You don’t remember.

Johnson: I don’t think they was, though.

[Interviewer 2]: Do you remember anything at all about the barracks? Tell me what you remember.

Johnson: I remember you’d sleep in the barracks and you’d get up and go to the mess hall and eat.

[Interviewer 2]: Get up and go to the mess hall and eat. And how long did y’all work out there? What kinds of work days did you guys have? Like, long work days or just eight hour work days, or what?

Johnson: Eight-hour days.

[Interviewer 2]: Eight-hour days. And the pay was a dollar a day?

Johnson: An hour.

[Interviewer 2]: An hour. And then, Mr. Johnson, when you were out there and you’d go to work and you’d come home to the barracks and to sleep, what did you do after work? What was the average day like? You didn’t just go to work for eight hours and come, go back and lay down. What did you do after work?

Johnson: Go to a ball game.

[Interviewer 2]: Go to a ball game? And that’s the Negro—the team that they had out at Hanford, do you remember the name of it? Okay, anything else they did out there for social life, other than the ball games?

Johnson: I can’t really remember.

[Interviewer 2]: You can’t remember. The lunch room, was it like a café sometime too?

Johnson: No—

[Interviewer 2]: At night?

Johnson: Yeah, it was like a café.

[Interviewer 2]: A café, didn’t they sell alcohol?

Johnson: Mm-mm.

[Interviewer 2]: They didn’t? Didn’t they bring entertainers out there? Do you remember any of them?

Johnson: Lord. I picture them. Oh.

[Interviewer 2]: That’s all right if you can’t remember that. Okay, tell me, tell me about when the church came. When was the first time you went to a black church over here in this area?

Johnson: I didn’t go to a black church. I started a church in my home.

[Interviewer 2]: And that was Morning Star?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: What year was that?

Johnson: I don’t know.

[Interviewer 2]: About 54 years ago now, huh?

Johnson: 55.

[Interviewer 2]: 55 years ago. And that was the first black church in this area? What did y’all do for church before then? You just didn’t go?

Johnson: No, that wasn’t the first Baptist church here. The Holiness Church is the first Baptist church.

[Interviewer 2]: Oh, it was the Holiness Church here?

Johnson: Yeah.

[Interviewer 2]: How long had it been here? Was it here when you got here?

Johnson: Yeah.

[Interviewer 2]: And that’s where the black people went that went to church? Were there a lot of women working out at Hanford?

Johnson: Mm-mm.

[Interviewer 2]: Just in the mess hall? How long did you work at Hanford?

Johnson: Worked until 1935, I think.

[Interviewer 2]: You mean ’55?

[Interviewer 1]: ’45, is when--

[Interviewer 2]: 1945?

[Interviewer 1]: That was the end of the Manhattan Project.

Johnson: When the war ended.

[Interviewer 2]: When the war ended. Then what did you do next after you went back home and came back out here? What kind of work did you get when you came back out here?

Johnson: I did—I was a cement finisher.

[Interviewer 2]: Okay. Were there soldiers here during that time?

Johnson: Mm-hmm.

[Interviewer 2]: Where were they living at?

Johnson: Navy base at Big Pasco.

[Interviewer 2]: Were there a lot more men here than women during those days? ’43, ’44, ’45?

Johnson: It was just soldiers here, more men.

[Interviewer 2]: It was more men. What year did your sister come? Did she come right behind you? Sister Rae did?

Johnson: Sister Rae? No, she—I came out here with them.

[Interviewer 2]: Oh, she was with you when you came out here. Let me ask you something. When you—how long were you here before you got married? Did you get married out here? You didn’t?

Johnson: I think I did get married out here, but I sat back and got my girlfriend and we got married at the courthouse here.

[Interviewer 2]: I see. And how many children did you have?

Johnson: Just one by that wife.

[Interviewer 2]: How many do you have altogether?

Johnson: Five.

[Interviewer 2]: All living?

Johnson: Mm-mm. Three are living.

[Interviewer 2]: Just a couple more questions I want to ask you if you can remember now. Just take your time on this one. What do you remember as the worst thing that was going on here when you got here for black people?

Johnson: Drinking and shooting dice.

[Interviewer 2]: Drinking and shooting dice, that was the worst thing that was happening for black people? That’s not too bad for some people. Okay. What was the best thing that was going on here when you got here, beside the pay? I know you like the pay. What else good when you first got here from the South, what was the best thing that you liked other than the pay?

Johnson: Ball games.

[Interviewer 2]: The ball games. Okay, Brother Johnson, thank you very much.

View interview on Youtube.

Years in Tri-Cities Area



Johnson, Luzell.JPG


African American Community Cultural and Educational Society, “Interview with Luzell Johnson,” Hanford History Project, accessed October 28, 2021,